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Meet Author, Playwright, and Screewriter Ken LaZebnik
http://www.bookpleasures.com/websitepublisher/articles/6778/1/Meet-Author-Playwright-and-Screewriter-Ken-LaZebnik/Page1.html
Norm Goldman


Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com.

He has been reviewing books for the past fifteen years when he retired from the legal profession.

To read more about Norm Follow Here






 
By Norm Goldman
Published on March 6, 2014
 


Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com Interviews Author, Playwright and Screenwriter, Ken LaZebnik







Today, Bookpleasures.com is honored to have as our guest, author, playwright and screenwriter Ken LaZebnik.  Ken's work has been produced at theaters across America, and whose film and TV scripts have ranged from collaborations with Garrison Keillor and Robert Altman, to the popular CBS series Touched by An Angel.

Ken has recently published his first book,  Hollywood Digs.

Norm:

Good day Ken and thanks for participating in our interview.

How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Ken: 

Writing is the family trade:  My father, Jack LaZebnik, was a writer who taught English and creative writing at Stephens College, in Columbia, Missouri.  I grew up watching the theatre program there produce his plays, and have simply always written something or other.  All of my brothers and sisters are writers, too (my brother Philip is best known for being one of the writers on several big animated features, such as MULAN, PRINCE OF EGYPT, and POCAHONTAS; my sister Cindy writes for a women's publication in Israel; and my brother Rob, the most successful of all of us, has written for a ton of half-hour comedy programs, created his own show, and the past several years has been writing for THE SIMPSONS).  What keeps me going is the fear of failure and bankruptcy.

Norm:

From reading your bio, I notice you are an author, playwright and screenwriter. Which do you prefer and how do they differ from one another?

Ken: 

I can't say I have a favorite mode; they all have their different joys.  If I had to choose one, I suppose I would say writing plays.  There is really nothing to compare with the fun of sitting with actors and a director and seeing your play come to life, and then the wonderful (one hopes) experience of opening the show and feeling the immediate reaction of an audience. 

Screenwriting and TV writing is fun occasionally; there are a lot of frustrations en route to getting something shot, but when a production is actually before the camera, there is a great sense of accomplishment and a kind of miraculous feeling that your script brought all of these people together.  And since HOLLYWOOD DIGS is my first book, I don't have a large sample size to draw from for comparison, but I will say that working with publisher Bart Schneider has been an absolute joy.

Norm:

How did you decide you were ready to write Hollywood Digs?

Ken: 

Bart Schneider (the publisher) told me I was ready and convinced me that I could do this.  I had written an essay for his magazine SPEAKEASY about ten years ago.  It chronicled F. Scott Fitzgerald's penultimate residence (he lived in the cottage of Edward Everett Horton's Encino estate).  Bart had recently started Kelly's Cove Press and told me if I just wrote another ten essays like that one, I'd have a book.  I have always been fascinated with Hollywood history, and so I thought it would be great fun.  It was, although it took longer than I thought. 

Norm:

How did you decide on the title?

Ken: 

The title was the subject of much discussion.  Eventually we settled upon HOLLYWOOD DIGS: AN ARCHAEOLOGY OF SHADOWS because each essay was prompted, more or less, by a shard of evidence from Hollywood history which I had stumbled upon.  Hopefully it evokes a sense of digging into the past and unearthing little nuggets of history.

Norm:

Could you briefly tell our readers what  Hollywood Digs is about?

Ken: 

It's a series of essays about odd corners of Hollywood history:  For instance, the tale of stuntman and cowboy actor Jock Mahoney, who was the 13th Tarzan, and the step-father of Sally Field.  He was a superb athlete whose career was destroyed when he leapt from an airplane during the shooting of a Tarzan film, into a reservoir in Thailand which no one realized was infected with human fecal matter.  He got dengue fever, lost 40 pounds, and his career (linked to his physique) was down the toilet.  Or an essay on Gidget -- who is a real person, alive, well, and Jewish.  Or an essay on my personal experience writing the film based on the childhood of Thomas Kinkade, the "Painter of Light," whose life ended in tragedy a few years later.  That sort of thing.

Norm:

As an author, what do you want your work to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?

Ken:

In the case of HOLLYWOOD DIGS, I suppose I hope to both amuse and provoke some thinking about the role of the writer in Hollywood.  Many of the essays are about writers, such as Mel Shavelson.  Shavelson was a huge figure in his lifetime -- President of the Writers Guild, leading Hollywood writer and director -- and yet today outside of the industry, no one knows him.  The urge to write is typically connected to a desire to have something live beyond you; yet the Hollywood writer's experience is that even if a film or TV show lives beyond you, almost no one associates it with the writer.  (As opposed to the stars or even the director.)  

Norm:

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Ken: 

Well, first of all, I learned to keep notes on my sources as I wrote!  I am used to making things up (in playwriting or TV writing) and didn't realize that I would be called upon to provide a Notes and Sources at the back of the book.  It was incredibly difficult to work backwards and track down my sources.  Obviously, I'm not a trained historian.  

Norm:

What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer? 

Ken: 

I suppose, as many writers feel, it's the sense that my work is never good enough.  I should have gone to graduate school; I should have finally learned grammar (I always relied on my father for grammar advice and once he passed away, I was in big trouble);  I should have taken some class on Shelley and Byron in college because I've never really read them and should have -- along with a thousand other things…  There's that sense of inadequacy, and then on a very pragmatic level, a difficult thing for me is simply staying concentrated.  Procrastination is at the heart of the writing experience, and I am a sucker for distractions.

Norm:

How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing? As a follow up, do you have a specific writing style?

Ken: 

I grew up in the Midwest, but came of age doing experimental theater in New York.  I think those two influences pointed me in a direction of trying to be emotionally honest, but enjoying experimenting with form (at least in the theater).  If I have a writing style, I guess it might be dialogue heavy (at least for TV and film), which is residue from the theatre.  

Norm:

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Ken: 

My father's basic dictum was "show, don't tell," which seems like pretty good advice.  That is much harder to do than it sounds.  I tend to enjoy "telling," or having characters who do and it's something I have to watch carefully.

Norm:

What do you think of the new Internet market for writers? 

Ken: 

From the Hollywood perspective, it is the most exciting revolution in our lifetimes.  The tools of production, as Marx said, are now in the hands of the workers.  For the first hundred years of film, the cost of film -- the simple cost of nitrate, and cameras and post-production and distribution -- made a writer at the mercy of the studio.  Now, with digital cameras and laptop editing and online distribution, virtually anyone can make a movie and upload it to YouTube.  This is, of course, a blessing and a curse.  There is an ocean of content which makes it difficult to cut through.  All that said, the Internet market is a great new horizon.

Norm:

Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?

Ken: 

Yes, absolutely, and I suppose this comes from my background in the theater.  As Tennessee Williams said, the one thing a writer cannot do is bore an audience.  Without an audience (readers) we are nothing.  The whole point of writing is that one has something compelling to say; something that is worth all the difficulties to bring it before a reader, and so we owe them our finest effort to bring them into the waking dream that is our film or book.

Norm:

What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share? 

Ken:

The best I can offer is to paraphrase Martha Graham, who wrote to Agnes DeMille when she was despairing about the quality of her work and if she could continue.  Graham said, in effect, that no artist is ever satisfied.  There is only a sort of divine dissatisfaction that keeps pricking us onward.  There is only one of you in all of eternity; no one else will ever contain your personal history, your emotional life, your intellectual interests, and if you do not do your work as an artist to express the unique experience that is your soul, it will be gone forever.  So do your work.

Norm:

Where can our readers find out more about you and Hollywood Digs?

Ken:

Kelly's Cove Press.  Their WEBSITE

Norm:

What is next for  Ken LaZebnik?

Ken: 

I am the Founding Director of a program which we hope to get off the ground this year, pending accreditation:  The Stephens College Low-Residency MFA in TV and Screenwriting.  It is a program based in a satellite campus in Los Angeles.  Students will come for ten days in the summer and ten days in the winter to experience intensive workshops with working professional TV and film writers.  The rest of the semester, they will work online, one-on-one with writer/mentors.  The goal of the program is to increase the number of women writing for TV and film.  I have enlisted a spectacular group of women writers who will be teachers and mentors and I think it has a chance to make a real impact.  

Norm:

As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer. 

Ken: 

How do you think the St. Louis Cardinals will do this year?  Answer:  They came close to a World Series victory last year; this year they have a deeper bench, more experienced starting pitching, and will go all the way.  

Norm:

Thanks again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.